Thoughts on Tameshigiri

Matt Wooton, 

ShoDan Gi Yu Honbu Dojo


This past weekend , I had the opportunity to practice Tameshigiri at the Gi Yu Dojo.  
Although the term may have originated as a method of testing the sword, I am struck by
how it is a better test of the one wielding the sword in the context of the study of budo.
When performing test cuts, the act of using a live blade definitely fills me with a different
level of awareness. At one level, I am much more cautious of the blade's orientation than I would
be with a bokken or fukuro shinai. The extra caution is really driven by both the desire to train
safely and the desire to avoid damaging the live blade (especially when being observed!).
This is all a distraction, though -- the same level of care should be observed with all training tools.
This is why it is so important to handle a shinai or bokken at all times like it is actually is a razor
sharp implement. Mistakes with a live blade are much more costly.
Cutting tatami with a live blade seems similar to a compliance audit for your sword technique.
Minor defects in stance, grip, and distancing have noticeable impacts on the performance of the cut.
Improper distancing may result in cutting with the tip of the sword only, which reduces power and hinders
the physics behind the curvature of the blade. Allowing one's stance to drift upward diminishes the power
of the cut and ruins the stability of the sword wielder.
Cuts like Do-Giri and Kiri-Age seem to require deep low stances.
In some respects, studying Kukishin Den Biken No Ho has helped me come
to better terms with using the lower stances.
Maintaining the proper grip, wrapping the index finger on top of the thumb, allows for a more natural feel,
making the sword an extension of hand and preventing twisting during a cut.
Wringing the hands together during the cut execution maintains the blade alignment during
contact with the target. All of these things need to be practiced with the bokken and shinai first --
Tameshigiri just reinforces this.
Practicing the cuts as a combative technique is also a crucial component.
Maintaining kamae while transitioning between cuts is important, since one wouldn't immediately relax between cuts during a conflict. Allowing one's arms to extend during the cut is another important practice during live cutting. I would never cheat myself of range when facing off against someone, so I should practice cutting in the same fashion. By the same token, one's cuts must also terminate with the sword pointed in the direction of your opponent -- allowing one's cuts to flow like a baseball or golf swing discredits the combat worthiness of what we are trying to practice.
Much to my chagrin, this gets a lot more difficult when trying to do static / stationary cutting, where one places the sword next to the tatami and cuts by suddenly dropping the hips and wringing the hands. One has to generate all of the power with body movement and alignment alone, without the benefit of the momentum behind a larger sword movement. This was a new experience for me, and it was definitely one that I will need to work on for the next time.
Overall, this experience was a great tool for me to determine what I need to work on next in my technique, and it will allow me better insight on how I should train when using the fukuro shinai, bokken, and iaito blade.